On a promotion with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek title of “British Beef” unbeaten Londoners Lawrence Okolie (7-0) and Isaac Chamberlain (9-0) will face off for the WBA inter-continental cruiserweight strap. This bout is less about the second-tier title and more about establishing local bragging rights, maintaining the “0” and the winner pushing their career into a more global context.
The protagonists have a mere 16 professional fights between them and could be considered as little more than freshman in the professional ranks. However, both have impressed on their short journey thus far. Okolie, a top-level amateur and former Team GB Olympian is outstandingly proportioned and carries concussive single punch knockout power from his 6'5" frame. He has ended all but one of his seven contests inside the distance.
Okolie’s unrestrained crowd pleasing style along with his amateur pedigree has seen him groomed for greatness and he has featured as a regular on the big promotions and SKY Sports shows from the outset. Conversely, Chamberlain has a slightly lower profile, little amateur pedigree and a less impressive knockout ratio. He has though ended four of his last five outings inside the distance on his way to building up a more than solid domestic reputation.
The rivalry between the Hackney and Brixton men has been ratcheted up in recent weeks, in often hilarious fashion. The high point being Chamberlain’s mock advert in Okolie’s local newspaper under the tagline “Work Wanted”. With a thoughtful Chamberlain keen to ensure that Okolie can position himself for a new career after he knocks him out this weekend. Even tying the “British Beef” slogan back to the Brixton-man’s early career in a burger-joint.
On, Saturday the talking will stop and finally give way to the much-anticipated action. Don’t expect any stodgy Yorkshire pudding to accompany the beef. This promises to be a dynamic, explosive and all action affair.
Lawrence Okolie vs Isaac Chamberlain for the WBA Inter-continental cruiserweight title
Where: O2 Arena, Greenwich, London, UK
When: Saturday 3rd February – 10pm UK time
TV: SKY Sports Main Event
This match-up can best be categorised as an unexpected treat for boxing fans. It has become unusual for two such outstanding young prospects to come together so early in their careers. With unbeaten records cherished it is to the credit of both fighters that this even made it into the diary.
There are far easier routes for both men to build a record and establish a foundation for a later title assault. Perhaps, they are looking to follow the business plan of Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk who claimed the WBO crown in just his tenth professional outing, and is widely considered as the division’s number one practitioner.
Okolie starts the narrow favourite in a wafer thin betting market. This is largely thanks to his amateur pedigree – he competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics - and the impressive start he has made to his pro career. The Hackney based fighter only entered the paid ranks ten months ago when he concluded his first contest in just 20 seconds. None of Okolie’s first four opponents survived long enough to hear the bell at the end of the 1st round, and only one proved able to extend him past the 3rd stanza.
That blemish featured a decisive six rounds points victory over tough and awkward Cameroonian Blaise Mendouo. A result that can be placed into only partial context by Mendouo’s earlier 2nd round capitulation at the fists of top British heavyweight prospect Daniel Dubois.
Inevitably, arm-chair critics will question the quality of Okolie’s mostly horizontal opposition. This would be somewhat unfair as they are plainly characteristic of the level that most prospects would face in their inaugural 12 months in the business. It is testament to Okolie’s ability that he has shown up their limitations in such stark and conclusive fashion.
“Chambo” will mark a definite step up in quality for the man known as “The Sauce”. Chamberlain has made more sedate progress with only nine contests in three years since turning professional. There is little to differentiate the quality of his opposition from Okolie but his 2016 decision victory over the seasoned and erratic Wadi Camacho, easily qualifies as the most creditable win of either fighter’s career. A modest Southern Area title fight triumph that “Chambo” impressively navigated despite dislocating his shoulder early in the affair.
This is an outrageously tough fight to call and the chief reason why Saturday’s action is so keenly anticipated. It is safe to predict that the free punching Okolie will come out all guns blazing and look to put Chamberlain under pressure from the first bell. However, “Chambo” is a substantially different proposition to any of “The Sauce’s” earlier foes and if the Brixton-man can weather the early storm, he could easily get something out of this fight.
Okolie also has a propensity to ignore fundamental defensive considerations in his pursuit of the early kill. Against his past calibre of opposition there was little risk in this approach, but Chamberlain has the necessary skills to take advantage of these openings. Equally, if Okolie can find his range and blast through early, it is not inconceivable that this could be another short night’s work. If the latter then we really will all have to start buying fully into the hype.
The longer the fight goes on the more the pendulum should swing in favour of Chamberlain who has previous experience of going the distance. Investors should probably narrow their options to an Okolie stoppage by mid-way or “Chambo” by points or late stoppage.
It really is a coin toss and I find myself marginally favouring the former. However, for the man that comes out second best on Saturday, there should still be a big-ticket career ahead of them.
Prediction: Okolie by TKO rounds 4-6
The pick of the undercard features local Bermondsey boy Ted Cheeseman (12-0) against experienced American Carson Jones (40-12-3) for the vacant WBO international super welterweight title. Despite a highly active career the Oklahoma native has never progressed beyond domestic and regional title honours; a level where he has achieved a reasonable amount of success.
Jones is no stranger to fighting in Britain and has two defeats to Sheffield’s former world champion Kell Brook on his record, including one by narrow split decision. Cheeseman starts a 1/3 favourite and despite the obvious know-how of his opponent; this is exactly the type of fight he needs to win in order to fulfill his obvious potential and continue the upwards trajectory.
Elsewhere unbeaten Englishman Reece Bellotti (11-0) defends his Commonwealth featherweight title against compatriot Ben Jones (22-6-1). The man known as “Duracell” is a former WBO inter-continental champion and will look to resurrect his prospects with an impressive if unlikely victory over Bellotti.
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